At this sad point in time, it appears that the Church is not really working very hard to stop this horrific scandal, if this article from ABC News is accurate.
Pope Francis’ proposed Vatican tribunal to judge bishops who covered up for pedophile priests is going nowhere fast.
Despite fresh focus from the Oscar-winning film “Spotlight” on how Catholic bishops protected priests who raped children, Francis’ most significant sex abuse-related initiative to date has stalled. It’s a victim of a premature roll-out, unresolved legal and administrative questions and resistance both inside and outside of the Holy See, church officials and canon lawyers say.
The surprise proposal made headlines when it was announced on June 10 as the first major initiative of Francis’ sex abuse advisory commission. A Vatican communique said Francis and his nine cardinal advisers had unanimously agreed to create a new judicial section within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to handle “abuse of office” cases against bishops accused of failing to protect their flocks from pedophiles.
But the proposal immediately raised red flags to canon lawyers and Vatican officials alike.
For starters, the congregation, which since 2001 has been the clearing house for all church abuse cases around the world, wasn’t consulted or even informed. As is, the congregation is understaffed and overwhelmed processing hundreds of backlogged cases of priests who molested children, advising dioceses on how to proceed.
“In reality, the congregation knows nothing about this. The question has just been left there. It hasn’t been dealt with,” said the Rev. Davide Cito, canon lawyer at Rome’s Pontifical Holy Cross University who has helped investigate abuse cases for the congregation.
The Vatican communique said a new secretary for the congregation and staff would be appointed, and adequate resources allocated. But nine months later, no appointments have been made. Francis recently repeated that he would appoint the secretary, but even once in place, he will be starting from scratch on an uphill battle.
“We’re confident that the Holy Father’s announcement of his intention to name a secretary for the Discipline Section is a clear sign that the implementation of his earlier decisions will be expedited,” the head of the sex abuse advisory commission, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, said in a statement to The Associated Press.
But to even a casual observer, the original announcement raised significant bureaucratic questions. It tasked three other Vatican congregations with conducting preliminary investigations into accused bishops, a hurdle in and of itself given their limited resources and expertise. In addition, the Vatican’s various congregations operate as individual fiefdoms: By what mechanism would these three fiefdoms then turn their cases over to a new tribunal?
“When it was announced I knew it would be a problem,” said Kurt Martens, professor of canon law at The Catholic University of America in Washington.
He said a key question that must be resolved is the negligence standard by which bishops would be judged. Would bishops be held to the same standard of reporting abusers to police when civil reporting laws differ from country to country? What about prescription and retroactivity: Could bishops who botched abuse cases five, 10 or 20 years ago be brought before the new tribunal?
“It’s a huge issue,” Martens said. “Where do you draw the line?”
Two church officials familiar with the proposal said there had been no follow-up since the tribunal section was announced. Two other church officials involved also said they too knew of no progress to date. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to comment publicly on a sensitive, papal-mandated proposal.
One of the officials, a canon lawyer, said some fundamental questions remain unresolved: Who denounces whom? Who decides that a trial is necessary? Canon law already says only the pope can judge a bishop. Why single out abuse of office for botching sex abuse cases when another abuse, financial malfeasance, is also a church crime?